An elite group of cotton producers were nearly “walking on air,” as one winner put it at the High Cotton Award presentations at the 2003 Beltwide Cotton Conferences.
“This is quite an honor for me,” said Dale Swinburn of Tulia, Texas, the Southwest High Cotton Award winner as he accepted the honor. “I feel like I'm walking on air. It's something that I will long remember.”
The Mid-South region winner was Marty White of Jonesboro, Ark.; the Southeast region winner was L.C. Conway of Cove City, N.C.; and the winner from the Western region was Paul “Paco” Ollerton of Casa Grande, Ariz.
Farm Press/Primedia Publications and the Cotton Foundation have been recognizing excellence in production and conservation for 10 years through the High Cotton Awards. High Cotton co-sponsors are John Deere, Delta and Pine Land Co., Griffin LLC, Helena Chemical Co. and Syngenta.
The High Cotton winners gave credit to others for their success.
“When I heard that I had won the award, I couldn't think of anything better to receive other than being awarded the best dad or best husband,” says Marty White, the Mid-South winner. He thanked his wife, Patsy, who was on hand for the award presentation with sons, Jesse Flye and Logan and daughter, Evelyn. White farms and manages 6,000 acres of cotton and an additional 1,000 acres of corn, rice and soybeans with his son, Jesse. On the road to producing top yields, he keeps an eye on expenses while concentrating on practices that can help the environment.
White recently switched his farm equipment to biodiesel. “It costs more,” he says, “but it cuts toxic emissions by 80 percent to 90 percent.” He also gets the benefit of more horsepower and less wear-and-tear on the engine. “Plus it helps support the soybean industry.”
In addition to producing top yields, nominees for the High Cotton Award must employ environmentally sound production practices. Conservation and practices that benefit the environment play an integral part in the High Cotton Award.
Conservation practices such as no-till have helped L.C. Conway weather the odds and produce a four-year average yield of more than 874 pounds per acre. The practice has helped reduce erosion and improve wildlife and bird habitat, an added benefit because he's an avid bow hunter. It's also allowed him to use less labor.
A kidney-transplant survivor, Conway credited his wife, Sheila, for her support. In accepting the award, Conway thanked his neighbor, Jason Jones, who nominated him for the honor.
“The day after the article came out, I got a call from a man in Montgomery, Ala., who said my story really perked up his day. He had had a kidney transplant also.”
Farming in the High Plains of West Texas, Dale Swinburn balances high yields against production efficiency and conservation. He's been involved in conservation efforts since the early 1940s. He rotates cotton and wheat.
Over the years, he's changed his farming philosophy from seeking maximum yield to achieving maximum profit. He uses reduced-tillage methods and low energy precision application (LEPA) irrigation systems. In accepting the award, he thanked his wife, Cheryl, the Southwest Farm Press and the Cotton Foundation.
The Western winner of the High Cotton Award, Paul “Paco” Ollerton, is a third-generation farmer who continues to look for the good times amid low prices and high input costs. He relies on his economic wits as well as “integrating new technologies and scientific principles into his management strategies.”
He and his wife, Karen, are partners in the farming operation. Karen, who holds an ag degree from the University of Arizona, scouts the cotton on the farm. Year-in-and-year-out, Ollerton produces three-bale-per-acre cotton. She refers to herself as “Paco's backup quarterback.”
“I'm proud to accept the High Cotton Award,” Ollerton said. “I want to thank my father, Paul, and his father, Preston, for the opportunity to have this career. I'm lucky to have my wife, Karen, working with me. And without the help of the people who work with us in the field, it wouldn't be possible.”
He also thanked the Arizona Cotton Grower Association, ag retailers, fertilizer and chemical companies — “all who contribute to the way we grow our crops and help us be more profitable.”
He quoted the FFA Creed — “I do believe in the future of agriculture and the promise of better days through better ways” — in describing his outlook.